For all the fans of Centurion (2010), King Arthur (2004), The Last Kingdom (2015) and Vikings (2013), Barbaren (‘Barbarians’) is the show for you. Set in 9th century Roman-occupied Germania, the tribes and villages are struggling to stay alive under the repressive, brutal rule of the Romans. To keep the peace, one chief trades his sons to the Romans – years later, ‘Ari’, now Arminius, is a respected Roman soldier who has little in common with his childhood best friends, Folkwin and Thusnelda.
The show is based on the real life figures of Arminius and Thusnelda. Arminius was a German-born, Roman-raised, eventual Germanic Cherusci chief after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. It’s not an area of military history I’m very familiar with, but apparently it’s one of the most decisive military victories in history and considered a huge failure for the Roman Empire.
The show begins with a Roman delegation arriving in a Cherusci village and demanding more tribute than the village could possibly produce or survive without. In retaliation, one of the Roman soldiers beats Thusnelda’s brother, permanently injuring him and leaving him brain damaged. Folkwin and Thusnelda swear revenge immediately and decide they’re going to steal the Romans’ eagle standard. You know, the gold-tipped eagle spear that Roman troops brought everywhere. Thusnelda and Folkwin are successful, but their victory is short lived when the Romans return to their village to enact their revenge. Very quickly, lines are drawn between the sides and Folkwin and Thusnelda’s friendship with Ari is put to the ultimate test.
This show is every bit as bloody, violent, painful, sad and tense as Vikings and The Last Kingdom. That said, this show really does bring something new to the table. It’s entirely in German and Latin. Thusnelda is front and centre, and I’m really loving her characterisation so far. She’s a wonderful lady/fighter/sister/advocate and so far my favourite of the main three. Her love for her brother and Folkwin and Ari is just amazing to watch. Ari is very sympathetic, and it’s clear he struggles with his allegiances, just like Uhtred in The Last Kingdom. He gets a bit frustrating at points, but you can see where he’s coming from. Folkwin is fantastic and full of fire, and sometimes I’m just like no, Folkwin, don’t do the thing! And then he does the thing. Oh, Folkwin.
I haven’t finished season one yet, but the show’s already been renewed for season two and I can’t wait to see how it will end.